We usually do this feature with the opponents for the week, but with the bye week coming up we were able to catch up with someone that covers the Houston Texans for another media outlet. Shaun Bijani works for Sports Radio 610 (the flagship station for the Texans). He covers the team for their website and is an occasional on air host for the station. He also happens to be a really nice guy that I’ve known for awhile, so he was kind enough to sit down and answer some of the same questions we have been chewing on for the past several weeks around here.
In particular, we took a look at what has happened so far, but also where the team is headed and should be headed in terms of coaching, which players should be building blocks, and of course Davis Mills.
Who are you most impressed with so far on both sides of the ball? Are there any guys that have surprised you in a positive way?
This season is all about the rookies. They’ve all been impressive in one regard or another. The most impressive amongst this years rookie class on the defensive side for me has been Jalen Pitre.
From day one, his teammates and coaches have lauded him for his football knowledge, character and work ethic. Nick Caserio said during the bye week that he’s got as good of a routine as any player and that his preparedness is top notch.
He handles the media well. He’s thoughtful in his responses and it’s easy to tell he spends a lot of time reflecting on the things he needs to improve upon whether it be on or off the field.
On the offensive side of the ball, I’d have to say Dameon Pierce has impressed me the most and most of it has to do with what he’s been like off of the field. The way he’s been used in the offense, how slowly he’s been brought along, I think would frustrate a lot of players young or old.
His lack of usage through the first four weeks of the season was incredulous. Not being on the field in high leverage situations or not getting a touch beyond the six-minute mark of any game before their week five game in Jacksonville was negligent and he has been a complete pro when asked about his lack of usage. That’s been surprising to see from a rookie and refreshing at the same time. He’s bought in, works hard, has the respect of his teammates and coaches along with the front office because of his work ethic and student approach to the game.
He’s constantly redirected the attention away from himself and acknowledges his offensive line when asked about any personal success he’s had. The excitement that he has in the locker room everyday is contagious and if he stays healthy, he should eclipse 1,000 yards rushing with no problem.
How would you rate Davis Mills so far? Do you see any path for him being the quarterback of the future or do you see us shopping for one at the top of the draft?
He’s a quarterback. He’s been one in high school and college but it’s ok to not be one in the NFL. That’s for the best of the best and I don’t think he’s one of them or will be in the future. That’s just my gut reaction.
I’m not impressed much by him from what I’ve seen thus far, relative to what a franchise quarterback should look like. To say there’s no path for him to succeed outright is foolish right now, because that is a subjective question to varying degrees. In terms of him ever being regarded as a franchise guy, I’d say that path is non existent.
Having said that, I also think Pep Hamilton is holding him back to a certain degree. I think the front office is as well, with the talent, or lack thereof they put around him and the way they’ve underutilized personnel thus far. That has not put him in the best situation to succeed.
It’s certainly looking like the Texans will have one of the top 3-5 picks in next year’s draft. If that’s the case, they should be able to grab the quarterback they want given their draft capital. If it’s Bryce Young, CJ Stroud, Anthony Richardson, Will Levis or whoever else they covet, they’ll be drafting one of those players to be their future.
How would you grade Lovie Smith and his staff so far? How are they better than their predecessors? Do you see him as a longer term answer or do you think they’ll be looking for another coach in a couple of years?
It wasn’t going to be hard to improve upon the 2021 season in respect to looking and functioning like an actual NFL franchise. The 2021 season was one of the most embarrassing occurrences in professional sports during my lifetime.
I don’t think Lovie is here for the long haul. He’s here to help establish a culture and develop NFL players. The Texans weren’t getting that from last seasons staff. There was too much outside noise, too many distractions. They didn’t have their pick of the litter, they became a laughing stock and it will continue to hurt them in free agency, but the fact is, they’ve gained credibly in hiring Lovie as a head coach. Someone who has been widely respected by front offices and players over the years does that. I think if he was injected with truth serum, he’d tell you that while he may have wanted to be a head coach again, he never thought he’d get another shot with a contender. I still believe that to be the case. His days are numbered by how many days it’s going to take for the franchise to find the quarterback of the future. If Caserio believes that guy exists in the 2023 draft, I don’t think Lovie is back. They’ll hire someone who has a more current and proven track record developing quarterbacks.
We all acknowledge that this team needs more talented players. Which positions do you see as the most pressing? Do you foresee this team being a playoff contender in 2023 if they have another draft as productive as the past two?
In the AFC South, anything is possible. They could very well be 3-1-1 entering week 7. That how wild and wacky the NFL is every year, particularly in their division.
The most pressing is quarterback. They need one, and should be in prime position or trade into a spot that can get them the guy they want in 2023.
They need to find a center and more depth on the offensive line in general, particularly at the guard position. They need weapons at receiver, as something tells me this won’t be the last time Brandin Cooks gets dealt. Pierce looks like he’s going to be a big time part of the future, so they’ll need a solid back up running back. A complete overhaul at linebacker looks like it’s on the horizon. They need to get younger and more consistent on the edge with pas rushers and more consistent at defensive tackle.
That’s eight positions of need, if they wish to begin to really contend next season. They currently have the draft capital to make a lot of that happen in the draft and financially speaking, they’ll have plenty of room under the cap to find upgrades via free agency.
They won’t snap their fingers or wave a magic wand and meet every need in a single offseason. However, they should be able to acquire enough talent though the draft and free agency ahead of the the ‘23 season to put themselves in position to contend for the division next year.
The classic question for every fan/analyst is whether you are better off winning or losing when you are not playoff ready. Where do you stand on tanking? Does your answer change depending on which hat you’re wearing? If you had your druthers, would you see them play this season out as is or deal a veteran or two for draft capital if a good deal presented itself?
I think putting players in the best possible situation to succeed is always the best way to grade/evaluate what improvements you need to make in the future for an organization. If a team just so happens to win more games than they wanted to or thought they would and their draft status suffers for that, so be it. General managers get paid a lot of money to make tough decisions. It’s as simple as that.
In no way shape or form do I believe in systematically setting a team up for failure and judging by the way the Texans utilized Pierce through the first four games, that thought did cross my mind in regard to the Texans doing just that.
Maybe that’s crazy or way off base. Nevertheless, that is exactly how egregious I thought personnel and usage decisions were through the first four weeks. At the very least, it was a major blunder by a coaching staff, that is supposed to be far more NFL caliber than the previous regime, which could’ve been out coached by a high school coaching staff.
I’d be shocked if the Texans traded a veteran this season for a couple of reasons. One, who would they trade that could bring the kind of draft capital that would’ve conducive to obtaining your pick of the litter at quarterback, a top tier edge rusher or linebacker? Two, you need some good players on this team right now and they don’t have many of those guys to begin with not named Laremy Tunsil, Jerry Hughes or Brandin Cooks.
The veterans they’ve compiled on the roster have a purpose and that’s to help develop the rookies in the last two draft classes and other young players that have a crack at being apart of this team when they’re ready to turn the corner, and quite frankly, if that time is not next year, then they’re doing it wrong.
We wanted to thank Shaun again for joining us this weekend. You can follow him on Twitter @shaunbijani, but you can also read this reporting on Sports Radio 610’s website. He will also be on the air this Monday morning from 6 A.M. to 8 A.M. Stay tuned for the rest of the season as we catch up with our opponents in this spot every week.